New portfolios are being allocated to ministers who were inducted into the Union Cabinet and Council of Ministers on Wednesday in the first cabinet reshuffle in the second innings of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi led NDA government.
Mansukh Mandaviya and Anurag Thakur will be the new ministers for Health and Information and Broadcasting respectively replacing Harsh Vardhan and Prakash Javedekar who were among the 12 dropped in a major revamp of the Union Cabinet on Wednesday by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who also brought in Sarbananda Sonowal, Narayan Rane and Jyotiraditya Scindia and 33 other new members.
High profile IT and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad was also dropped as the prime minister attempted an image makeover of his 26-month-old government facing grim challenges due to the COVID pandemic and a faltering economy by carrying out the first expansion and reshuffle of his ministry after retaining power in May 2019. Seven junior ministers who included Thakur were elevated to the Cabinet rank.
While Ashwini Vaishnaw, a new inductee, got the crucial portfolios of Communications and Electonics and Information technology besides Railways, Kiren Rijiju, who was promoted as Cabinet minister, gets charge of Law and Justice. Vaishnaw, a Rajya Sabha MP from Odisha, is a former IAS officer of the 1994 batch, and he also has an MBA from Wharton School, Pennysylvania University and MTech from IIT Kanpur.
The Cabinet overhaul that came ahead of key Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh next year saw Scindia, a former Congress leader who joined the BJP in 2020, getting Civil Aviation, a portfolio held by his late father Madhavrao Scindia who died in a plane crash in 2001.
Among the 36 new faces, eight are lawyers, four are doctors, two are former IAS officers and four MBA degree holders, besides several engineers, making it an eclectic mix of professionals in what is seen as an attempt by the prime minister to give a boost to the governance quotient ahead of a string of assembly elections and the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Besides 15 Cabinet ministers, 28 Ministers of State, comprising new faces and those elevated, were sworn in at a ceremony held in the Darbar Hall of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. President Ram Nath Kovind administered the oath of office and secrecy to the 43 ministers including the seven elevated to the Cabinet with all COVID protocol in place.
Hours before the ceremony, 11 ministers resigned while another minister Thaawarchand Gehlot quit on Monday after being made the Governor of Karnataka. The resignations of all the 12 ministers were accepted by President Kovind.
The total strength of the Council of Ministers now stands at 78, including the Prime Minister. The prime minister can have up to 81 members in his Union Council(15 per cent of the Lok Sabha strength).
The reshuffle also saw JD(U) joining the government with Rajya Sabha MP from Bihar R C P Singh being made a Cabinet minister and given the Steel portfolio.
Prime Minister Modi has also boosted the representation of backward castes, dalits, tribals and women in his Council of Ministers with a focus on politically crucial states, including the all-important Uttar Pradesh.
" I congratulate all the colleagues who have taken oath today and wish them the very best for their ministerial tenure. We will continue working to fulfil aspirations of the people and build a strong and prosperous India," Modi said in a tweet.
A generational shift was also visible in the revamped ministry with many veterans like Harsh Vardhan, who had drawn flak for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as health minister, Prakash Javadekar, D V Sadananda Gowda and Ravi Shankar Prasad making way for new faces in the Cabinet. The average age of the union ministers now stands at 58 compared to 61 of Modi's first ministry in his second term that assumed office in 2019.
Dharmendra Pradhan will be the new Education Minister while Annapurna Devi, Subhas Sarkar and Rajkumar Ranjan Singh the new Ministers of State for Education. He takes over from Ramesh Pokhriyal 'Nishank', another senior BJP leader who was dropped.
He was Petroleum Minister in the previous Cabinet. This portfolio now going to Hardeep Singh Puri, who was among those elevated to the Cabinet rank. Puri, who was divested of the Civil Aviation portfolio, will also continue as Housing minister.
Another senior BJP leader Narayan Rane, who made his debut into the Cabinet and was the first to be sworn in, has been given Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises(MSME) portfolio, Rane, who had switched over from the Shiv Sena, is a former chief minister of Maharashtra.
There was no change in what is traditionally known as the 'Big 4' portfolios with Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah, Nirmala Sitharaman and S Jaishankar retaining Defence, Home, Finance and External Affairs respectively.
Shah has also been given the charge of the newly created ministry of Cooperation. Nitin Gadkari also retained the Road Transport and Highways portfolio.
Rajnath Singh is now the only minister in the current government who had also served in the Vajpayee ministry during 1998-2004.
Piyush Goyal was divested of the Railways portfolio but retains Commerce and Industry, Consumer Affairs and Textiles.
The expansion is also seen as a nod to the BJP's increasing geographical expanse as more states and regions have found representation in the Modi government while big states like West Bengal, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Karnataka have seen their presence boosted significantly.
Most of the members took oath in Hindi, a few of them in English. Outgoing ministers Prasad, Javadekar and Vardhan were also present, while some had their family members watching their oath-taking.
The exit of Prasad comes amid a row between micro-blogging platform Twitter and the government over various issues, including compliance with the new IT rules.
Prasad and Javadekar had also recently announced sweeping regulations for social media firms like Facebook and Twitter, OTT players as well as digital media. They both were also faces of the Union Cabinet media briefings.
Vardhan, a doctor himself, had been in charge of the health ministry as well as the science and technology ministry during the COVID outbreak and during a period when India worked to develop vaccines.
However, his various comments in the middle of the crisis were slammed by many as insensitive and ignorant of the ground reality, even as he strongly defended the government's handling of the situation.
Besides Kiren Rijiju, Hardeep Singh Puri, Mansukh Mandaviya and Anurag Thakur, R K Singh, Parshottam Rupala and G Kishan Reddy were also elevated to the Cabinet rank.
The move to bring new entrants of West Bengal is seen as an attempt to bolster the BJP's prospects in the TMC-ruled state that recently saw a high-octane electoral battle.
Lok Sabha MP from Bihar's Hajipur Pashupati Kumar Paras, who is embroiled in a feud with nephew Chirag Paswan over the control of Ram Vilas Paswan-founded Lok Janshakti Party, was also sworn in as a Cabinet minister. He got the Food processing portfolio.
Sonowal, a former Assam chief minister who was replaced by Himanta Biswa Sharma after the recent Assembly polls, was given the Shipping and Ports portfolio.
Lok Sabha MP from Tikamgarh in Madhya Pradesh Virendra Kumar and Bhupendra Yadav, who has been serving in the BJP organisation as a general secretary, were also sworn-in as Cabinet ministers.
Among the 28 Ministers of State, seven are from Uttar Pradesh which goes to polls next year with the BJP seeking a second term there.
Pankaj Choudhary, Anupriya Patel(of BJP ally Apna Dal-Sonelal), Bhanu Pratap Singh Verma, Kaushal Kishore, S P S Baghel and Ajay Kumar-- all Lok Sabha MPs from Uttar Pradesh--took oath as Ministers of State. B L Verma, a Rajya Sabha MP from Uttar Pradesh, was also sworn-in as a Minister of State.
Rajeev Chandrasekhar and Shobha Karandlaje, MPs from Karnataka; Darshana Vikram Jardosh from Gujarat; New Delhi Lok Sabha MP Meenakshi Lekhi; Annapurna Devi (Jharkhand), A Narayanaswamy (Karnataka); Ajay Bhatt (Uttarakhand), Chauhan Devusinh (Gujarat), were also sworn in as MoS.
Others who were inducted as Ministers of State were Bhagwanth Khuba (Karnataka); Kapil Moreshwar Patil (Maharashtra); Pratima Bhoumik (Tripura); Subhas Sarkar (West Bengal); Bhagwat Kishanrao Karad (Maharashtra); Rajkumar Ranjan Singh (Manipur); Bharati Pawar (Maharashtra), Bishweswar Tudu (Odisha) and Shantanu Thakur (West Bengal), Munjapara Mahendrabhai (Gujarat), John Barla and Nisith Pramanik (West Bengal); and BJP's Tamil Nadu state president L Murugan.
At least 16 entrants to the Council of Ministers are first time MPs.
Murugan is the only minister who is not an MP and would need to get elected to either Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha within six months.
Seven women were among the 43 who took oath, taking the total number of women ministers in the government to 11.
Nisith Pramanik (35), the Lok Sabha MP from West Bengal's Cooch Behar, is the youngest minister to be sworn in, while the oldest member in the council of ministers is 72-year-old Som Parkash.
Labour Minister Santosh Gangwar, Minister of State for Education Sanjay Dhotre, Minister of State for Women and Child Development Debasree Chaudhuri, Minister of State for Jal Shakti Rattan Lal Kataria and Minister of State for Environment Babul Supriyo were among other ministers who had resigned.